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The Gift of Gratitude

TV news anchor Deborah Norville has uncovered some surprising benefits of saying "thank you."

It's one of the phrases you use most often, usually without thought. But just speaking two simple words can actually make you happier, healthier, and more energetic. In her book Thank You Power, Deborah Norville explains how saying "thank you" can yield those benefits—and many others.

Deborah has reason to be grateful. The two-time Emmy winner and anchor of the television news magazine Inside Edition has achieved that elusive balance between a thriving career and a rich family life with her husband, Karl Wellner, and their three children.

But Deborah's also had plenty of opportunities to practice gratitude during tough times. Her parents divorced when she was young, and her mother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Despite Deborah's difficult childhood, she graduated from college with a journalism degree and became the anchor of NBC News at Sunrise and a frequent substitute for hosts Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley on the Today show. But when NBC replaced Pauley with Deborah, viewers blamed her for destroying the beloved Gumble/Pauley partnership. Ratings declined, and Deborah lost her position.

Looking back, Deborah's thankful she doesn't hold a demanding job and has had time to host a radio program, act as a correspondent for a CBS newsmagazine, anchor Inside Edition, spend time with her family, and research and write Thank You Power. She credits her Christian faith for always helping her find reasons to be grateful.

Deborah spoke with TCW about how gratitude has changed her life.

What inspired you to write Thank You Power?

I'd always felt life went better when I focused consciously on the positive. But I wondered if I was just faking myself out like a kid who insists on wearing a certain jersey because he's always managed to score in it. So I decided to explore the simple question: Does counting your blessings have any quantifiable benefits?

What answers did you find?

One study, by Professor Robert Emmons from the University of California Davis, involved three test groups. One group focused on their blessings, another focused on negative events, and the third just focused on neutral facts such as "Today I washed the car."

Participants kept track of factors such as how much they exercised, how often they suffered from headaches or allergies, how well they slept. The results showed those who focused on blessings were more optimistic, more social, and more apt to help others. They even averaged an hour and a half more exercise each week than participants in the other two groups.

Do these results have a scientific explanation?

When you're feeling positive, dopamine—the feel-good neurotransmitter responsible for happiness—activates the cerebral cortex, the part of your brain where cognitive thinking happens. So not only will you feel good, but you'll be smarter, do better on tests, and improve your ability to negotiate and resolve the disputes you face daily with your spouse and children over doing homework or taking out the trash.

How have you implemented Thank You Power into your daily life?

I keep a notebook in my purse, and almost every day I write down three moments I can revisit later and say, "That was cool!" Right now I've been looking back on an entry about an elderly friend who died this past June. As I listened to the tributes people gave at her standing-room-only memorial service, I thought, How fortunate I am to have been friends with a woman of such character and strength! To honor her, what can I take from her life and inject into mine?

Or I look at a notation about my daughter, who's incredibly generous with hugs. She doesn't care if my boss yells at me or I get scooped on a story. I'm her mommy, and she loves me. Those reminders deflect my attention from the momentary goofiness that brings me down.

Do you have to work at being thankful?

My natural tendency to be grateful is a reflection of my childhood. Since my mother was physically unable to do what my friends' moms could, I was always intensely thankful when she participated in something. She couldn't always pick us up from school, so if I saw her green station wagon, I said, "Yay! Mom's here!" When she had her hair fixed and lipstick on, that was even cooler, because it meant she was feeling good. So I developed this knack of finding something to celebrate.

How is Thank You Power especially helpful during difficult times?

Thank You Power encourages you to look at life through a different lens. People whom life has tested or shortchanged develop an inner resilience. My mom's health problems were actually a blessing, because they forced me to become far more capable than most other 11-year-olds, running the household with my sisters for my mom. Consequently, I easily negotiated temptations and mistakes that tripped up my friends in their early 20s. I wouldn't have seen that blessing if I hadn't changed how I viewed my childhood. I could've just said, "God's mean and unfair to me," and hardened my heart in anger toward him. Instead, I made that hurt part of a reservoir of strength.

So Thank You Power is consistent with your Christian faith?

It's the essence of Christianity. Countless places in the Bible, through good times and bad, Jesus and the prophets teach gratitude. Even at Lazarus' death, Jesus gave thanks—at first glance, a very strange thing to do. But God's children are meant to learn from all experiences. Lazarus' death was a blessing because it was one of Jesus' first opportunities to work a dramatic miracle. So this book was really written 2,000 years ago. I'm just giving it a modern spin.

How does your book's philosophy differ from the teaching of The Power of Positive Thinking or The Secret?

It's proactive. The others' teachings are passive. I've positively thought I could lose 20 pounds, but I didn't see the needle on the scale budge. Losing weight requires doing something active. And take The Secret's idea, "If you see it, you can be it," to its logical conclusion. If I develop terminal cancer, did I get it because I had a bad attitude? No.

Thank You Power is cause and effect. It's like putting treasures into a box, then opening it and looking at your possessions—your experiences, skills, loved ones—and noting how each has given your life meaning.

How would you answer those who say, "Being thankful is easy for her. But my life's a mess"?

Everyone's life is messy. In difficulties, you need Thank You Power the most. When I was anchor of the Today show, I got run out of town unfairly. I could easily focus on all the slights, perceived and real, I experienced professionally and personally. But doing so would be useless.

If you're feeling depressed, overwhelmed, or cheated, you're most likely focusing on what you don't have. You can grow gratitude by recognizing blessings you do have, no matter how insignificant they seem. You'll see life in a different way and may find yourself going down a different path.

Copyright © Christianity Today International. Dawn Zemke is a freelance editor and former associate editor of Today's Christian and Marriage Partnership.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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